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What's it Like to... Take the MCAT® Exam?

Colleen Kays

Colleen Kays
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
Medical School: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Class of 2013

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What was the testing site like? How many people were in the room?

The testing site is set up in a highly regulated manner. There’s a lobby with lockers and there’s a room with computers. Each computer is partitioned off from the others. Although there may be up to 20 or 30 other people in the room, it’s completely silent and the partitions make you feel like you’re there by yourself.

To get into the computer room where you will take your test, you have to sign in, have your fingerprint scanned, show your picture ID, and prove that you have nothing else on you (other than earplugs if you choose). Every time you leave the computer room, you have to sign out and scan out with your fingerprint again.

What can you have with you?

Not much! When you enter the test room, you’ll have to bring your picture ID (current government-issued ID, with an expiration date, your photo, and your signature; your driver’s license or passport will work). You can bring earplugs in with you too, which is a good idea even if you don’t think you’ll use them, just in case. Beyond that, you can’t bring anything else in with you.

You cannot bring any food or drink; that stays in your locker and you can get it out during breaks. You also cannot bring pencil or paper, but the test site will provide you with something to write on. At my center we were given booklets of paper and two pencils; if we filled up the booklet we could ask for a new one, but they would take away the used one at the same time. Some centers use laminated paper and dry erase markers instead.

You can bring a jacket into the test room with you, and wearing layers is a good idea! Some test sites are freezing, but I also have a friend who took her MCAT exam at a site where the A/C was broken…in July. (She survived and is a medical student now!) You’ll feel more comfortable if you’re prepared for any testing situation.

How was taking the test on a computer?

Not bad at all! When you’re studying, make sure to spend some time doing at least one practice test on your computer at home to make sure that you’re used to it. You’ll also want to explore in advance how to use the functions on the test, such as highlighting information, crossing out answers, and marking questions. There’s a tutorial at the beginning that goes over how to use all of those features as well. Overall, I think it’s actually more comfortable taking the test on a computer than taking it as a written exam, where your hand starts to cramp up from filling in so many bubbles.

How long did it take? Did you get breaks?

All morning (or afternoon)! It’s surprising how exhausting it is to be thinking so hard for so long. The test is five and a half hours long, and the breaks are important to help you refresh! You’re not allowed to leave the test room while you’re in the middle of any section, but in between each of the 4 sections there's a 10-minute break. You have to make sure to time the break yourself; your next section will start if you’re gone for more than the allotted 10 minutes. But during that time, you can leave and use the restroom and have a snack. You’re not allowed to study or use your phone during that time.

Did you finish each section?

I did finish each section, but I also practiced a lot in advance by using the materials available on the AAMC website.

How long until you got your scores?

About a month. Your score will be put online when it’s available, but don’t start checking for it after just one week! It really does take about 4 weeks.

Do you have any advice?

Take your studying seriously, but don’t overwork yourself! You’ll definitely want to give yourself time to prepare, by studying the material and doing practice exams, but you can certainly still be working or in school during that time. Try to pick a lighter course schedule, though, if you can.

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